Law & the Media in Texas — Fair Trial Press & Law

Fair Trial Issues

The Press and the Law

The House of Delegates of the American Bar Association adopted on February 19, 1968, the recommendations of its Committee on Fair Trial and Free Press. The committee was headed by Justice Paul C. Reardon of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts.

The standards were aimed at prosecutors, lawyers, judges and law enforcement officials. Their suggestions would permit use of the name, age and family status of the accused, the charge against him or her and a description of the arrest.

But the standards would bar disclosure of potentially prejudicial information such as the suspect’s record, contents of a confession or admission, lie detector results or refusal to take a test and the identity, testimony or credibility of any witnesses.

Six weeks later the ABA said it would encourage the development of voluntary codes that meet the Reardon standards. And about the same time Justice Reardon said, by way of clarification, that the standards do not prohibit public statements by police and prosecutors on the full facts of an arrest or crime.

In September 1968 the Reardon report was adopted as federal standard by the U.S. Judicial Conference.

As is true in other actions by the ABA, putting the suggestions into effect required action by bar associations on state and local levels. In Texas the implementation came primarily as a result of a joint committee representing the news media and the State Bar of Texas.

The result was the establishment of guidelines that were approved by the three major news associations in the state, the Texas Association of Broadcasters, the Texas Press Association and the Texas Daily Newspaper Association, and by the State Bar of Texas.

The guidelines were worked out by the eight-member committee and announced on October 3, 1969, after nine months of consideration.

In its report the committee said an attorney should be prohibited from using the press “to express his opinions concerning the conduct or rulings of the judge, the findings of the jury or the conduct of opposing counsel.” The committee also recommended that attorneys be prohibited from abuse or exploitation of the media to “enhance or prejudice a pending case” and from use of the media for “personal aggrandizement or self laudation.”

This was keeping with the kind of attitude expressed in the original report submitted by the Reardon Committee to the American Bar Association.

Overall, the standards have been controversial and newspersons have tended to disagree with them in several areas. For example, they suggest that lawyers not make available before trial previous criminal records, the existence or contents of confessions of admissions and the identity or testimony of prospective witnesses.

The application to lawyers in Texas was made with the disciplinary rules in the Code of Professional Responsibility, established in 1971. The rules enumerate the limits a lawyer must place on his or her discussion of civil and criminal cases in which they are counsel.